Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Everybody Needs a Tap Code: The Healing Grace of Social Connection

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak



There are two things we can safely say about human
beings. The first is that we are social creatures. The second is that we are
highly resilient, able to withstand the most horrific of circumstances and
resume life once the trauma is over. These two basic human truths are intertwined
as portrayed in the story of the tap code. Bob Shumaker was a POW in Vietnam
and suffered a long captivity including three years of solitary confinement. He
attributes his survival to the use of a tap code that allowed him to
communicate with his fellow prisoners. This meager fellowship consisting only
of taps on a wall was sufficient to create the social holding that integral to
our well-being. When the Buddha gave his teachings he emphasized three things:
Buddha-Dharma-Sangha
. Buddha refers to our ability to wake up and realize our
Buddhanature. Dharma can be translated as
natural law, or the Way, or as the teachings of the Buddha. We can think of dharma
as the straightforward, testable, and livable wisdom contained in the Four
Noble Truths. Sangha was the community
of like-minded practitioners practicing the dharma together. From the outset,
the Buddha created community, and the Sangha is one of the oldest continuous
living human institutions. Contemporary research confirms this inclination
towards community initiated by the Buddha 2500 years ago. Psychiatrist Dennis
Charnay who has studied the neurobiology of posttraumatic stress says, “The tap
code kept many of the POWs’ spirits up, even when they were in solitary
confinement. Everyone needs a tap code. Everybody needs people in their lives
to help them get through the tough times.” The tap code is a metaphor for the importance of social connection and, indeed, the social matrix that makes us who we are. 


Generosity as an Antidote to Greed: 40 Billionaires Donate Half Their Wealth

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Has the Buddhist revolution begun? This Wall Street Journal headline, “U. S. Superrich Vow to Share Wealth” gives hope that perhaps the revolution has begun. Buddhism doesn’t have a patent on generosity and none of these philanthropists has cited Buddhist reasons for doing so, but doing so certainly embraces the virtue of dana (generosity). Nevertheless, these bodhisattvas are seeking to make a difference. 

One strategy to enforce generosity is through taxation. According to Timothey Geitner this woudl be bad for the economy. For people to give voluntarily because it is the right thing to do rather than because they are mandated to do so seems to make more sense. It also gives these individuals the ability to direct where there funds go and whom they should benefit, rather than going into government coffers to pay for whatever the government deems appropriate (and that seems rather always and lately on defense spending. 
Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle donated $46.9 million to his medical foundation, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, donated $175 million to USC’s film school, Barron Hilton, son of hotelier Conrad Hilton, will donate $1.2 billion to the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation, Peter Peterson, co-founder of Blackstone Group, will donate $1 billion to the foundation bearing his name, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of Abraxes BioScience, donated $65 to Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. The effort towards such giving has been spearheaded by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates. They have convinced 38 other such mega-wealthy to do as they have pledged. The goal that Buffet is aiming for is setting an example for others, not through coercion but through admiration and inspiration. 
Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg puts it this way, “Making a difference in people’s lives – and seeing it with your own eyes – is perhaps the most satisfying thing you’ll ever do. If you want to fully enjoy life – give. And if you want to do something for your children and show how much you love them, the single best thing – by far – is to support organizations that will create a better world for them and their children. Long term, they will benefit more from your philanthropy than from your will. I believe the philanthropic contributions I’m now making are as much gifts to my children as they are to the recipient organizations.”

To see the list of 40 donors and their pledge letter visit the “The Giving Pledge” website

Hachi: Dogs, Loyalty, Attachment, and Hope

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

I recently rented and watched “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” starring Richard Gere and an array of Akita’s. The movie is based on the true story of an Akita who waited for his deceased master at the train station everyday for ten years until his own death. The original story took place in 1920s Tokyo and has been updated to the current day in some idyllic suburban town in the Tristate area or New England. The movie takes a long to time to wind up and we are exposed to a life too perfect. A comfortable and stylish old farmhouse in a friendly town where everyone knows each other, where dogs roam round unencumbered by leashes and the threat of cars. An impossibly functional family: loving husband and wife, well-behaved and beautiful daughter who gets married and pregnant in lock-step with the mainstream schema of the ideal family. Meanwhile this lost puppy becomes part of the family and fiercely attached to its owner, following him to the train station every morning, and showing up again at 5:00 PM anticipating his return. On the day his master suddenly dies, Hachi intuiting this, finally fetches a ball, something he would never do before.

Ruki_01.jpg

I’d like to say that I transcended the maudlin and maintained a perspective of equanimity as I watched. As my aging Rhodesian Ridgeback lay next to me, his hulking form curled up, I was teary throughout and then let go into a wave of vigorous sobbing as the main action of the movie arrived. Hachi shows up at the train station every morning and waits all day. At night he goes to sleep under an abandoned train. He is fed by the staff of the train station and this is his life — for 10 years. Why was I crying so? A remarkable story about canine loyalty is one reason. What remarkable creatures. The film also reminded me poignantly of my own dog’s aging and impending demise sometime within the next couple of years (likely based on average life expectancies). Any image of an aging dog sends me into paroxysms of grief. There is something special about the grief we experience for a dog and this will be the subject of another blog entry and will be explored in a book at some point.

It’s also interesting to consider his loyal behavior as evidence of hope. His behavior of going to the train station does not extinguish as it should according to operant conditioning principles. A mouse would not continue to show up for a reinforcer that was not there, but Hachi has an attachment system in his brain and sufficient capacity for imagination to override the evidence that his master is not getting off that train. We, too, are creatures of attachment and capable of sustaining this type of evidence-defying and reinforcer deficient hope. We do so at our own peril: We stay in relationships that are unhealthy; we keep repeating the same destructive patterns in our life. All the while, there is hope based on memory that things might be different this time. We show up to the train station each day waiting. I counsel myself and others to Kill Hope in these situations. Unlike Hachi, we have the cerebral capacity to override our limbic/attachment drive to sustain hope (and this is limited to false hope). We need to confront the question: “Do I want to spend the rest of my life at the train station waiting?” That could be a deliberate choice or it may arise out of the unconscious pursuit of this deep but deluded conditioning. It’s a reflection on acceptance: Can we accept what is so?

What is Mindfulness Anyway?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Q: Talk a little bit about mindfulness. What is it? What are it’s benefits? How can it be cultivated?

A:  A New Yorker cartoon shows a beleaguered looking man clutching the arms of a stuffed chair being addressed by his wife. She tells him with a look of pity and concern, “You should never engage in unsupervised introspection.” This is a pretty good definition of the target for mindfulness. Such unsupervised introspection can get us into trouble, causing distressing emotions and reactive behavior. Mindfulness shows us how to supervise our minds.

IMG_0251.jpg

The father of American psychology, William James, said 100 years ago that our intellectual life consists almost wholly in our substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. He points to our tendency to live in concepts and stories and how we can be out of touch with our actual lived experience that is occurring right now. The definition for mindfulness that I used in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness is, “an intentional and curious directing of attention to our experience as it unfolds in the present moment, one moment following the next — the very happening of our experience as it is happening without commentary, judgment, or storytelling.” Mindfulness is not about suppressing thinking but recognizing that it is occurring and not elaborating it automatically and without choice. Mindfulness is the ability to cultivate awareness and the ability to retrieve attention from the future or past, or commentary about the present to bring it into intimate contact with what is happening right now.

Sounds rather simple, right? Well, it is. While mindfulness may be “simple” in the sense of being uncomplicated, that does not mean it is “easy.” Our minds don’t want to stay in the present and will keep going to the future and past or talking about the present rather than being with the present. This is a long-standing and strong mental habit. To better realize the “simple” nature of mindfulness, most of us need to practice and for that reason we practice mindfulness meditation (see entries on the instructions for Mindfulness of Breathing One, Two, and Three). We practice coming back from the future and past to the being of this moment, training awareness to disengage from telling stories to attend in this experiential way to what is actually happening. The more we practice coming back, the more adept we’ll become at catching ourselves in a place we’d rather not be and coming back to now. With mindfulness practice we learn to supervise our minds in a gentle and skillful way. We learn to undo the exchange of the conceptual for the perceptual and dwell in the magical and ordinary perceptual experience of this moment. 

Previous Posts

Drive by Shooting: Mindfulness on NPR
It's not surprising when a feature on mindfulness appears in a major media outlet. Mindfulness is popular. This time it is a sub-four minute interview on NPR. Tamara Keith spoke with Sharon Salzberg, one of the co-

posted 6:25:54pm Jul. 22, 2014 | read full post »

No More Fooling Around: Changing the World Through Mindfulness
Today I will start a series of posts about how we can change the world through mindfulness and the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings. This transformation starts with individuals and progresses through groups, corporations, and then societies. Ultimately, a global movement is possible and will be acco

posted 10:47:16am Jul. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Mindfulness for Introverts
Mindfulness is a natural fit for introverts. The act of meditation itself is an introverted activity and at the same time equips introverts to navigate their interior without getting stuck in rumination. I recently wrote an essay for the Kripalu Thrive blog entitled Mindfulness for Introverts.

posted 3:26:51pm Jul. 08, 2014 | read full post »

The transformative power of mindfulness . . .
As I mentioned last week, there is a special learning opportunity upcoming with Jack Kornfield. I hope you got a chance to look at his videos. Registration is now open to take advantage of studying mindfulness with one of the most beloved American teachers. When it comes to creating real, lasting

posted 11:28:48am Jun. 17, 2014 | read full post »

7 Contemplations for Realizing the Spiritual Introvert Edge (for introverts AND extroverts)
Spirituality Defined “Spiritual but not religious” is a popular designation. What does it mean to be spiritual? There may be as many definitions of spirituality as spiritual people. Everyone puts their unique imprint on what it is to be a spiritual person. These definitions range from religious

posted 1:58:09pm Jun. 15, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.